I realized we didn't have a nice catch-all category to post those random bloggy things you need to write once in a while to keep the updates coming. So, sit back and enjoy this first entry to the Random category dealing with the minuta of our weekend.
Getting lost on a drive a while back we came across the city center of the town we actually live in, Montesson. It was a nice little area with the requisite cobblestone, small roads and smaller shops and looked like it might be a cool place to grab a drink another evening. That evening turned out to be Saturday and the idea turned out to be a bad one. The city center wasn’t that nice upon closer inspection and we ended up walking into a bar at the end of town because it was the only place we saw that might be serving drinks at all. It was a total dive and Chizzy felt very uncomfortable being the only woman in a tiny smoky room filled with what appeared to be hooligans. (Dante's foosball crew: I did make one amazing observation watching the hooligans play on some really old tables with what looked like rubber balls. The dominate shot of all the players turned out to be the aptly named Frenchy Pullback. I am not kidding.) After making quick work of our beer while standing at the bar we grabbed Chizzy’s coworker Mike and went out to the more inviting town of St. Germain En Laye. We went to a cool Irish pub and got to speak a bit of English to the barkeep and put back a couple Guinesses. They only had little sandwiches for food though so we moved down the road to a pizza place. We arrived at 6:45 which we knew was early for dinner but not so early that they wouldn’t even be open yet. They weren’t however, so we had a while to kill so went to the English pub next door. The British tabloid The Sun was sitting on our table and I introduced Mike and Chizzy to the famous Page 3 Girl. Finished off our beers there and headed back to the pizza place. I wanted to make sure I got a little local flavor to my meal so I ordered the ‘special’ which came with a fresh raw egg cracked right over the top immediately before serving. I had heard about the raw egg phenomenon from many people before I got here but was still a bit surprised to learn there are no rules on what qualifies to be topped with one. After dinner we moved across the street to the French bar where we met up with Bill, another coworker. If you are a long time reader of this site you might be familiar with a post I did several months back about how silly I thought asking where restrooms where in bars and restaurants. I have been regretting that post for quite a while but I still like to venture out to find them without asking. I thought I had these French bathroom locations nailed because they never seem to be on the dinning level. You are either going upstairs or downstairs if you want to use the restroom. So I made a beeline to the nearest staircase and was half way up by the time I heard the waitress yelling at me. Turned out to pretty much be the door right across from where we were sitting. I will always remember this bar, however, as my first introduction to the infamous smoking in Europe. I’d been telling people for a couple weeks now that I hadn’t noticed the smoke here at all. I guess it was just a matter of time before I found it. It was pretty much unbearable to me after a while and it was at my suggestion that we call it a night. In classic fashion the machine ate our parking ticket and I needed to use the call box to find a dude to come and help. Normally a trivial matter but the language barrier makes even those adventurous.
When we were having our garage sale in Seattle this odd man who bought my desk went to extraordinary lengths to rack his brain so he could draw me a map to the “only theater in Paris that plays movies in English”. He informed me this location would be of great respite after a few weeks of not being able to understand anything people were saying on the streets and on TV. So of course I conjured up thoughts of every French cinema playing these black and white arthouse movies of crying clowns holding black balloons standing in empty train stations.
I’m not sure when this guy was last in Paris but he really could not have been more wrong. Oh, it is certainly true that Paris is any cinema lovers dream city with tons of theaters and movies from around the world and there are several where you can’t find an English language movie playing. It’s just that it turns out Hollywood is not only the movie making capital of America. Granted, we were walking on probably the most tourist-ridden street in Paris but there were many cinemas and they were all playing at least one major English language film. Also, our internet search of potential movies to watch seemed to confirm this was not confined to the area we were in. As Chizzy smartly informed me, all you have to do is look for the words ‘version original’ (there are probably supposed to be some accents in there or a slightly different spelling) to identify the movies that are playing the original version. They are just subtitled in French.
Unfortunately the movie we decided to see was Oceans Twelve. I didn’t care for it. Call me petty but the primary requisite for my enjoyment of a movie is a plot that actually makes sense. I can’t get excited by good acting or witty dialog. I can only appreciate those things once I have convinced myself the story actually holds water. If you have seen this movie and think I missed something please let me know.
Sometimes the names of the movies are just slightly off or a mix of the languages. In France the movie is called The Indestructibles instead of The Incredibles. In Zurich we could have watched Spongebob Schwammkopf. It rolls of the tongue quite nicely.
We punched in Versailles to the GPS navigation system in the Audi station wagon and were off for a day trip to the most famous Chateau in France. We actually ran out of camera juice about half way through the day so some stuff will only live on in our memories. Hopefully some of these photos will do justice to the modest dwelling of Louis XIV.
You should be able to make out the castle there in the middle of the picture.
Continue reading "Versailles"...
The Hall of Mirrors. Although we didn't capture a mirror in this picture you can trust us that they were there and they were spectacular. Actually, a more traditional photo of this hall wasn't possible due to the massive restoration that wont be complete until 2007. Fun fact: The Treaty of Versailles was signed in this room.
In Seattle, every night before getting ready for bed I used to reach into my front right jean pocket and pull out all the coin change I had collected from purchases that day and put them in my "Got Milk" glass bottle. When the bottle was full after a few months I'd head over to the nearest QFC and make a massive spectacle as they loudly fell into the Coinstar. I didn't even feel too bad about them taking their 7-9% cut because I would end up with about $100 from a full bottle which I considered bonus money. I think our trip out here is going to cure me of my habit of not reaching in that pocket to find the 37 cents for that 7.37 purchase.
There are 8 coin values in the Euro monetary system: 2, 1, .50, .20, .10, .05, .02, and .01. Yes, they have a 2 cent coin. On top of that, I'm getting the sense that the 5 Euro bill can be as allusive as the American $2 bill. It seems I am generally handed a fistful of coins for any amount of change under 10 Euro. So it is very possible after couple purchases that you could have in the range of 7-10 Euro just sitting there in your pocket weighing you down. You've got to spend them. I figure that while I am digging through dealing with the 1 and 2 Euro coins I might as well find that .37. After all, I haven't seen a Coinstar yet.
Swiss Fancs are different still. Their smallest bill is the 10. They have a 5 CHF coin about the size of the American 50 cent piece. However, they actually have fewer coins than the Euro system. How can that be, you say? The crazy thing about Zurich was that every singe purchase we made came out to a nice round 10 cent increment. In American terms there are no nickels or pennies. So you just have the 5, 2, 1, .50, .20 and .10 coins (I did actually read there is a .05 piece but they don’t use them in Zurich I guess). It’s kind of like a dream come true. How many times have you looked at a stack of pennies and scowled with utter disgust at their insignificance? Is that just me?
What are the roundabout rules and are they different if you have a yield sign? I heard today that you are supposed to yield to your right, but that makes no sense to me. Is it true? And if so, can someone just simplify it?
We got back on Monday night from a long weekend trip to Zurich. Zurich left a very good first impression on me. The old city and outlying areas are very nice and there are a ton of restaurants and shops and despite the freezing temperatures there were a lot of people out enjoying them.
Looking back towards city center. Standing where the Limmat feeds into Lake Zurich directly behind.
I'll get some more city pictures up in a while in the Travel category. In the meantime you can check out the latest Photoblog entry to see pics of one of our excursions.
As part of the sightseeing duties we hopped the train up to Uetliberg to look down on Zurich and get some overcast but sweet mountain views.
Had to get above the clouds to see the mountains.
Continue reading "Top of Zurich"...
"Hurry up! I'm standing on a grate."
When you pick up a travel book about Zurich you always read about how expensive it is. That didn’t really sink in with me until I was here looking to buy something or get some food. It’s insane. To get your bearings, at the current exchange rate you can buy 1.19 Swiss Francs (CHF) for 1 US dollar. A typical no frills sit down lunch spot with an entrée and a beverage will run about 25-30 CHF per person. Throw in a salad or appetizer and you are easily at $30 US dollars for a modest lunch. At the noodle house where we ate for lunch on Monday I ordered Phad Thai and Chiz ordered a soup dish and we shared a bottle of mineral water. We left there $50 lighter. You guys in Bellevue think you have it bad. To punctuate the normality of these prices we were seated right next to two 14 year old skater kids who themselves plopped down an easy 60 CHF for their curry dishes. There are a ton of food stands and “take away” options but the Kabobs go for 8.50 CHF and a bratwurst or pretzel would run you about 6-7. At dinner time, the sandwich board sitting out front of the Spaghetti Factory (no relation) has no problem informing you that the nightly entrée special will run you 40 CHF. Throw in the expected bottle of wine and kiss your money goodbye. Bar prices are no better. You are looking at 7 CHF. minimum for a beer and a whopping 14 CHF for a shot of JD (almost $12). The two pints of Guiness and side order of fries we ordered at Oliver Twist (cool British pub) came to 25 CHF.
The food is just the tip of the iceberg. The myriad of storefronts all prominently display a sample of their wares in the windows. Most of the stores actually have no qualms about displaying the prices right along side the window items. It’s shocking. I would have to say the two most prolific store types are the shoe store and the watch store. They really do love their watches here. I don’t think I ever saw a pair of ladies shoes that was less than 129 CHF. You would be very lucky indeed to find just a simple men’s watch for less than 100 CHF and it was the norm to see the majority of the watches over the 1000 mark. The windows with no prices in them scared me immensely. Jeans are upwards of 100 CHF. A new XBOX game is 90 CHF. A men’s haircut is 90 CHF and a woman’s is 100 CHF. I bought a popular fiction paperback book for 15 CHF. Service related industries are not much better. Our modest hotel room was 240 CHF a night.
Nobody enjoyed my "Laundry" entry and instead called for photos and adventure stories. I'd better break the news to you all now that this isn't going to be a travel blog. We will try to put up as many pictures and stories of new places we go but meanwhile you have to read about the everyday aspects of ours lives. Take this for example...Continue reading "Bad Habits"...
Is there a more confusing appliance to figure out than a randomly encountered washing machine? True, you can find some pretty user friendly models out there that clearly show the temperature, time, and cycle but these don't seem to exist in any communal laundry rooms I have ever seen. Take this recently encountered puzzle for example.
I’m pretty sure those things on the left are just lights indicating where in the cycle the load currently is but what is the story with the dial? The section marked ‘A’ is the temperature but I have no idea what the rest of those sections are. I ran my loads with the dial just sitting there on ‘A’ but on closer observation of this photo I am troubled to see that the dial is actually set to ‘C’. The last person to use this clearly had some additional knowledge I was not privy to.
Now that I think about it, I probably most certainly operated it incorrectly. Either that or this washing machine has a very different approach to cleaning clothes. I say this because the entire time I stood there watching it, the clothes would just spin around a turn and half and then stop for a second or two before spinning the opposite direction for another turn and half. I put the soap in something that resembled a proper receptacle but I never did see one single sud through the clear window (not pictured). Oddly, the clothes came out smelling and looking clean. If anybody reading this happens to have a similar model in their homes, please feel free to comment on the proper setting for a warm water wash.
When I got off the plane in Paris and collected the cat and luggage on a cart and headed to the door clearly marked "customs" I braced myself for a taste of Euro-style bureaucracy. I was a bit worried because the papers I had for Tolsty all said Switzerland on them due to our change of plans. Yes, I do worry a lot in general but I felt justified this time because before the woman at the USDA Veterinary office finally said it would probably be OK she let out a long sigh and said, “They probably aren’t going to like that”. So, here I went through the frosted glass doors ready for a stern glare and an even sterner lecture. I was amazed that the only face waiting for me was a smiling Chizzy. That’s right. Not a single check of anything was done at the airport there. No passport check. No customs. No pet paperwork check. We waltzed right out to the car and now Tolsty and I are wreaking havoc all over the place and nobody knows we arrived unchecked and without lecture.
Laughing about our unfettered access to the country in the carefree days
But now our reign of flying under the radar looks like it is in jeopardy…
I stepped in poodle poo on the street. It stinks.
In case you didn't know, the poop scoop laws here are not very strict. Maybe the locals need to take some tips from this guy.
Actually it was my first dining out experience altogether. We ended up at a Japanese restaurant because Chizzy couldn't kick her craving for rice even though we already made it at home earlier in the week. I was eager to try the coffee partly because asking for it is the one of the few phrases I learned and partly because I really wanted to try it. I have to say it was pretty good. I did have to add the provided sugar cube though because it essentially is just a shot of espresso in an elven cup.
This dinner also featured my first questionable food substance. I ordered this kind of skewer plate with 6 different meats. One of which we couldn't translate. It had something to do with chicken and when it arrived it looked like some sort of meatball made of chicken. It tasted good so I'm better off not ever knowing what it was.
Don't worry. I'm not going to post every meal I eat. I'm still just trying to seed the blog a bit and give some first impressions.
It's true. The French love to kiss hello. Every morning I go in to the office and am greeted by two kisses from each of my co-workers. Some of the guys just give handshakes, but the ones I work with closely give me kisses on the cheek. Bryan's jealous.
Continue reading "One Day in Paris"...
I jumped in the water shortly after taking this picture
Continue reading "Montesson"...
Where we are staying
Chiz and I got up early this morning and drove into Saint-Germain-en-Laye (10 minutes) to catch the RER into Paris. Saint-Germain-en-Laye is really cool. Like a lot of things I see around here it is hard to describe. Probably the best word I could use is 'old'. Pictures will be up soon. Turned out we actually got up too early (which is an entirely different jet lag story). We knew that Sundays are pretty quiet, but even Saturdays get off to a very slow start around here apparently. It was good to avoid the pickpocket that prefers the crowed trams, but not so great for people watching on our trek from the Arc de Triomphe to the Louvre. Although, as Chiz can attest to, I found tons of things to gawk at and she spent most of her time trying to make sure I didn't get ran over by a Smart Car. Amazing city.
From there we headed into the Saint-Germain-des-Pres neighboorhood of Paris (not to be confused with Saint-Germain-en-Laye). It is a big shopping district with lots of fancy-poo-shmancy stores but we were checking it out because we might want to live in that area. Bought a couple ham and cheese crepes from a street vendor for a snack. Chiz rocks when it comes to getting around and talking to people. I need to get some confidence to use my limited skills. It shouldn't be too hard since everybody has been very eager to help us out and we haven't ran into anybody who doesn't speak english.
Signing off for now as I am about to watch the Seahawks playoff game via this dial-up connection.
Well, the entire family has made it to France. We are in temporary housing in the quaint little town of Montesson. Depending on how long we will be staying in France, we should be moving to Paris pretty soon. Tolsty travelled really well for 13+ hours in the little cage and adjusted quickly. He's already meowing with a nasal accent. Much better than me as I can only produce blank stares saying "Par-lay-voo On-glay" to people.
This is essentially just an initial hello to exercise the site a bit. J hooked me up big time with his Nullstream templates. Tweaks should be coming soon.